Last Updated : 05/02/09
e travelled to Barcelona, capital of the Cataluñya region, where my extensive research had pinpointed at least two brewpubs and several other likely suspects where some scoops could be purchased. Armed with this information, we set off with little real hope of finding anything other than pale lagers except in the brewpubs!
Barcelona 2006, by Gazza.
his trip was a bit of a strange choice for us on paper – Spain isn’t known for it’s beer culture, so why were we off to Catalunya? Well, it was the usual combination of low fares and a simple “why not?” attitude to choosing our next destination; we could fly into Barcelona itself with easyJet for £31 and back out of Girona, 45 miles up the coast, for £10.50 and I’d recently read some emails on scoopgen about two brewpubs in Barcelona so I took the plunge and we were on our way! A bit more research later unearthed another possible brewpub and some decent-sounding wine scooping bars so at least we wouldn’t go thirsty…
I spent many hours on my treasured new broadband-enabled computer trying to find more beer gen for the region and succeeded in discovering there was a large regional in Barcelona as well as the usual suspect of San Miguel in addition to the local big boys Damm. Try as I might though, Girona remained resolutely a beer desert but as we were flying back from there and I’d have to drive when we got back I wasn’t too concerned about the lack of scooping options and, besides, the pictures I’d seen of the place looked very nice indeed; I reasoned that we’d probably be too busy gawping at the city walls to drink!
Saturday 18th March 2006.
Early morning, Luton Airport. Again.
I had been given no choice but to book us out of Luton, one of my most hated airports, but I’d discovered a new car parking option a lot closer to the terminal which was only £5 a day – bonus. The trip down was uneventful with the exception of seeing a barn owl flying over junction 16 of the M1 which almost made the trip bearable; I’d seen another owl a few weeks previously whilst drinking in South Wales and was amazed at the size of the things when airborne; this new example was no exception as it floated serenely across the road.
After a minor navigational issue we arrived at Central car storage who were very efficient; they had a receipt waiting for us, confirmed the flight numbers, and drove us the half-mile to the airport in a transit minibus within five minutes of arrival; we’ll certainly be using them again! We quickly checked in despite being 45 minutes early as we’d noticed the flight number on the screens and, luckily, the check-in Ada was feeling sociable and opened the flight for us giving us priority numbers one and two which is always a good feeling… years ago I thought that I’d never get boarding number one, but it now seems to be a regular occurrence with us and, on the same note, I’ve just checked in on-line for our flight to Lübeck and we have received check-in numbers one and two for that one too!
We then had to suffer a prolonged fester in the rancid new departure lounge which, being Saturday, was rather full of normals off on “lager” weekends; this was obvious by the way these type of people carry their passports visibly in their back pockets in a “please steal me” kind of way! The only entertainment was provided by a couple of arguments and one brat who, upon wandering away from his parents, was called back with a shrill “Sidney! Come back here NOW!” Priceless – don’t you just pity the poor little tyke at school in assembly?
We were soon called for the flight and trooped down to the horrible holding area (which always remind me of slaughterhouse pens) for boarding which are okay for five or ten minutes - but not for the hour we eventually stood there whilst easyJet tried to fix the oxygen supply in the cockpit! Unfortunately the information we received with regards to this problem was in short supply resulting in a few very pissed-off looking normals (and us!) by the time we actually boarded. The female pilot (a first for me) apologised for the delay and said that had they discovered it sooner then we’d not have been called forwards until it was sorted. Surprisingly we kept our take-off slot and were soon away on a winning plane and heading over the coast into the clear morning.
Watch your bags.
We made up some time en-route and arrived 45 minutes down although we weren’t in any real rush to get there so were chilled about this. After acquiring some cash from a well-behaved cash machine it was time to try and buy a 3-day travel pass which I’d assumed wouldn’t be an easy task so, with a rare moment of foresight, I’d printed off the page from the Barcelona public transport website which showed the ticket and it’s price! Fortunately we soon located a tourist office in the arrivals area which sold transport tickets and, without having to resort to my hard copy, we were soon in possession of two three-day travel passes for the very reasonable price of €13.20 each.
The ticketing sorted, we followed the signs across a particularly long elevated walkway to the train station where the problems I’d read about on the net were apparent – trains were running as far as Prat de Llobregat where we’d need to change for a connection to Sants station. As we passed through the barriers, however, Sue noticed a bus parked behind the glass rear wall of the station and upon investigation it transpired to be an additional bus to Sants whilst the engineering works were in progress. With valid tickets and the bus about to leave we made our choice and secured the last two seats aboard – although that didn’t stop hundreds more tourists joining us!
After a 30-minute journey into town we arrived at Sants station with no real plans of what to do – well we did, but we decided on a coffee and to try and get a map to peruse. We quickly found a coffee stall where we bought a decent espresso (called solo in Barcelona) and a lovely fresh sandwich as, by now, we were getting a bit peckish. A map was soon obtained from the tourist office next door so we sat down to decide what to do first; a quick look at the map showed us that the famous La Sagrada Familiar cathedral was only a short metro ride away so we made a snap decision that that would be our first call and our first sight of the infamous Gaudi style of architecture which I wasn’t sure that I would like…
We’d read that the metro in Barcelona could be a bit dodgy so we resolved to be extra-careful with our stuff and headed off down the escalators to the metro platforms. On reaching them, however, Sue was a little peeved to discover that her bag was open; apparently she had felt someone behind her and had moved to let him pass but thought it strange that no-one had passed. Luckily, the pocket opened contained nothing of value (apart from our flight reservations!) so, if it had been opened by a prospective thief, he’d obviously seen nothing of value and scarpered. This event reinforced our determination to watch each other’s bags and, hopefully, would turn out to be a warning for us to be extra-vigilant until we had dumped one of the packs at the hotel later in the day. We felt a bit embarrassed as, in all our travelling, this was the first time anything like this had happened to us and maybe it gave us the kick we needed to stop being so blasé about our personal security!
Gaudi by name…
A few stops on the metro and we were at the Sagrada Familia which sticks up into the sky like a vast set of perforated beige-painted cucumbers. We stood and stared at this monstrosity for a while - honestly, I tried to like it – but in the end we admitted defeat and concluded that yes, it was different and interesting but no, it wasn’t what either of us would call beautiful or attractive! We sat on a bench and studied the map whilst shrill bird cries rang out around us which, after a bit of staring at treetops, we deduced to be from some bright green parrots which were swooping around the palm trees collecting the fluffy trunk coating for their nests and shrieking shrilly at the same time. I must admit we were more impressed with the parrots than Mr Gaudi’s lifetime work, make of that what you will…
As it was now almost 14:00 it was time to find the hotel and sort out our bags out – after the scare with the open bag we were determined to be as safe as possible. One uneventful trip on the metro later and we were walking along Avinguda de Diagonal, the monumentally long and straight road which runs SW to NE above the old town, looking at yet more modernista architecture (which reminded us of wedding cakes) and hoping the hotel wouldn’t be too far – which it was, sort of, if you think 850 metres is a long way!
I’d booked the hotel via Opodo – a first for me – and naturally I was a little apprehensive about the reservation being in the books but, as usual, we were booked in and sorted within five minutes. Booking with Opodo had gone against the grain with me somewhat, with their being owned by flag carriers, but they had by far the cheapest offer on the Wilson I’d seen and, as I’d wanted to stay there owing to it’s proximity to the trams and brewpub, Opodo it was – reluctantly. Our room was huge and we spent a good hour lazing around, recovering from our early start, and listening to the by-now familiar parrots screeching past our window with huge lumps of nesting material clamped in their beaks. By the time we emerged the time was gone three so we decided to find some beers to drink in our room that night and then go and explore the city centre.
An unexpected few scoops.
We did a quick tour of the local supermarkets and managed to pick up some surprising scoops; the best was Moritz in a 33cl bottle, but I also found Bock-Damm and Mahou negra to help bump up the totals. We were delayed in one of the shops by only one checkout being open and we were stuck behind a bloke with what seemed like half a year’s supply of food whilst we waited with our two bottles of beer…
We retraced our steps and took the metro down to Plaça Catalunya from where we headed straight off down La Ramblas. I know it’s tourist tat and we don’t usually go in for this sort of thing but we wanted to see the market hall and reasoned that we may as well walk down the Ramblas as take the metro there – purely to say we’d visited them. The expected crush of tourists and sellers of all manner of junk was a bit claustrophobic at first until we got past the cages of birds and animals where the tourists crowded around to inspect the unfortunate critters in their too-small prisons.
We were soon at the Sant Josep market hall which, in the usual standard of European markets, was full of stalls stacked high with delicious-looking wares including vegetables, meat and loads of shellfish – Sue got a shock when watching a tray of mussels as one extended it’s huge yellow tongue to an alarming extent. As we wandered around the stalls it soon became apparent that, despite the hordes of tourists gawping and taking photos, this was still a real locals’ market selling everything they needed. This became more apparent the further we ventured into the cavernous hall and, eventually, we found a couple of bars which seemed to be dispensing snacks and drinks to the stallholders. A quick coffee seemed to be in order until I saw the two golden-coloured beer taps on Bar Boqueria; Bock-Damm on draught sounded like a good start to our Spanish scooping campaign!
We grabbed two seats at the bar opposite the taps and, after a short delay whilst a sudden backlog of orders was dealt with, we were soon in possession of a glass of Bock-Damm and a coffee, backed up by a large slice of tortilla. I took a sip of the dark brown brew, expecting nothing of interest, but was faintly surprised when a modicum of flavour was detected; a slight toffee and caramel taste and a very thin yet toffeeish finish made this beer better that I thought it would be – OK, it wasn’t world class or even good, but I’d expected absolute dross from Damm and was pleased to be proven wrong by their dark lager!
The rest of the beer slipped down easily and I decided that despite the obvious caramel flavours I would actually drink another glass of this – if we could find it anywhere else! We paid up and left, pausing to buy a cup of freshly-squeezed orange juice to liven us up for the evening’s beer scooping, and continued down Las Ramblas towards our next beery objective whilst looking at modernista architecture along the way, some of which looked very like something a kid might make out of plasticine after a quick spliff! The most amusing point of the day was when we passed “Café Fanny” which probably serves mince pies looking like Fannies… allegedly. How childish.
We were soon in the palm tree-infested square of Plaça Reial, complete with Gaudi lights, where we soon located the Glaciar bar tucked away in the northwest corner. This bar was reputed to have a “decent foreign list” which turned out to be good in a relative manner – good for Barcelona, but poor compared to most other places! They had a few half-decent Belgian brews and even random stuff like Quilmes from Argentina (multinational crud in case you were wondering) but nothing to get excited about. What I was pleased about, however, was the triple font of Damm beers dispensing the usual Estrella, and also Bock-Damm and the rare Voll-Damm; this was a result as I honestly hadn’t thought that I’d find anything apart from the eurolager Estrella anywhere!
I ordered a Voll but, somehow, when it arrived it tasted very weak and gassy with lots of corn syrup and certainly didn’t taste 7%... the riddle was solved when I saw the barman pull a Voll-Damm and noticed it was slightly darker than the glass he’d given me – D’oh! Ah well, it was a winner, so I grimaced my way through the “beer” before ordering a Voll, making sure to speak more carefully this time – I certainly didn’t want another Estrella, one was enough for a lifetime.
My glass of Voll arrived and I expected a bit more of it for a 7% beer… unfortunately the only extra it really had in comparison to Estrella was a hint of alcohol and more syrupy-sweet flavours making it slightly sickly; ah well, that was the brewery’s main beers all cleared in only a couple of hours! The beers in the book we headed off to have a quick wander around the old town and have a look in a bar which was said to brew. We soon arrived at the church of Santa Maria de la Mar where we watched a procession of crosses and admired the very impressive Gothic interior before locating the Vascelum bar on the square around the church; looking at it’s tourist-grabbing frontage I wasn’t hopeful about any brewing going on here but, seeing as we were almost standing in it, we may as well have a look!
We entered the bar and, looking around, it had all the look of somewhere recently refurbished; even worse, the bar only had three taps and all were Damm, one being the repulsive-sounding “Lemon Damm”. I asked a waiter if they brewed their own beer which elicited a surprised look and a simple response of “No!” He elaborated they had Moritz beer available but we already had a bottle of that back in the hotel room so we politely refused the offer and headed off for the Vasa de Oro (Glass of gold) bar in the port area of Barcelonetta where, hopefully, we’d have more success.
The Glass of pure Gold.
We soon located the bar down a street just off the main drag through the area. From the outside it didn’t look that much but I’d read so much about it on the internet that it just had to be done! I wasn’t sure the beer was brewed on the premises and, looking around, I was even less sure although several sources (including Paul Harrop) had told me it was brewed nearby. Less thinking more drinking, I thought, and in we went…
We opened the doors and tried to walk into the bar… but I pulled up short when we saw that the bar was only a couple of feet away with a line of locals supping beer from tall glasses stood along it! We squeezed into the larger area to the left of the bar and looked around; this place had some character, I thought! The long bar had a couple of feet space along it, although there were two areas a bit larger with some tables, one at each end of the bar. There was a huge metal beer dispenser on the bar and the rest was taken up by tapas of various types such as sausages, salad, potatoes and meat; this seemed like our sort of place!
The barmen wore captains’ epaulettes on their shirts and looked a bit strange but it was their rowdy behaviour which amused us; they ranted loudly at the locals, who seemed to greatly enjoy it, and hurtled up and down the bar dispensing beer to everyone. The dispenser had no labels on it to indicate what was available but two things made me guess it was homebrewed; everyone was drinking the stuff (there was hardly a glass of wine in sight) and it was darker than the Damm we’d seen earlier… so a definite maybe then! The particularly riotious barman soon came across to us, noticing we had no beer, and within a minute this situation was rectified and I was ready to scoop!
I gave the tall glass a sniff and that was enough to confirm this wasn’t some multinational crap rebadged – malt, toast and hops came from the beer inside so I took a mouthful and swished it around to capture the flavour… which didn’t take long! I was amazed by the quality and flavour of this brew and took another mouthful just to make sure I wasn’t imagining it. It was an amber beer, crystal clear, with a distinct strong nutty maltiness balanced by bitterness and some oily hops which led to a well-balanced yet still very malty aftertaste which lasted for a long time as the dry bitterness lingered on the tongue; this was a beer you could drink a lot of!
After the lack of beer at our first listed bar we were thirsty and our glasses of beer didn’t last long so, happy that we’d found some decent beer (to be honest, I never thought we’d find beer this good in Spain – just shows, eh!) we quickly ordered two more along with some plates of superb garlicky potatoes in olive oil as a snack; they were so garlicky I was convinced that no-one would sit next to us on the plane back to Luton!
Unfortunately, we were reaching the end of our staying power, having been awake since the early hours, so headed off (vowing to return the next day) to the definite brewpub in town, the Cervesera Artesana, where I was very hopeful of scooping four good beers as their website proclaimed they were made from Maris Otter malt and cascade hops and, besides that, the place was closed Sundays so it was tonight or never for us! After trying to find another bar which sounded half-decent (and getting totally lost and disoriented in the grid-like streets of Eixample) we gave up and did the metro up to Diagonal for the five-minute walk to the brewpub.
The glass of not so pure gold, more a light alloy.
The pub is situated close to busy Diagonal along a quiet side street and, although the frontage is small, it’s a long thin building although not large by, say, some German brewpub standards; sociable and cosy is about the best I can come up with. We quickly bagged a table by the bar and immediately I saw the brewery, a fairly small affair (5 barrels or so) in the back room behind windows and looking very coppery - all good signs so far then! A waiter appeared and came out with the quote of the week;
“Ola! Many winners!” Sue and I were both totally withered by this, although I’m sure he actually said something completely normal in Spanish such as “Ola, Buenos noches” (good evening)…
Despite my limited Spanish and his limited English, I ascertained there were four beers available namely Iberian pale ale, Iberian stout, Honey and Rubia so we started with the IPA and the honey beer. These arrived in badly-filled half pint glasses and I wasn’t as impressed as I’d hoped I was going to be with them; the IPA was hoppy, yes, but nowhere near as hop-laden as I had imagined it would be whilst the honey (miel) beer turned out to be the best beer of the evening with it’s sweetish, honeyed, mellow flavour and subtle finish with just a suggestion of stickiness!
We then moved onto the Rubia and Iberian stout, which I had high hopes for, but still I was distinctly underwhelmed; what we’d assumed would be a ruby beer was in fact a pale ale (Rubia means blonde in Spanish!) which was a hazy golden colour with a restrained hoppy flavour and some bitterness in the finish whilst the stout was deep red, caramelly and slightly burnt with a suggestion of caramalt and bitterness in the finish – but nowhere near enough for me, unfortunately!
A bit disappointed, but still happy enough to have scooped four very drinkable beers in a city where I had expected very little, we headed off back to our room where we had the results of our supermarket frenzy earlier in the day waiting for us – I say frenzy but I’d not really call two bottles and a can a buying frenzy, maybe I should change that bit? We were, by the time we got back, too tired to drink much so it was only the bottle of Moritz (5.4%) that succumbed to the heritage Greenall-Whitley bottle opener and surprised I was; a very pale beer, not promising much, but a full grassy-hop and grainy flavour burst out with some sweet maltiness in the finish with balancing bitterness and more grassy hops – this was a decent pale lager and, again, a lot better than I’d expected. Content with our scooping for the day, we agreed to some well-earned doss in preparation for more exploration and, hopefully, scooping the next day.
Sunday 19th March 2006.
We had the luxury of a small lie-in before setting off on a mammoth public-transport scooping whirlwind tour of the city; there were three funiculars, two new tramlines, one old one and lots of metros to scratch in and I’d already acquired most of the gen we needed from the excellent Barcelona transport website. We began with scooping the western tram system (there are currently two separate new tram lines which aren’t joined together yet!) which, owing to the surprising length, took longer than expected. We obviously wanted to scoop all available track so, leaping at San Marti del’Erm for the other one, we were a bit withered when we weren’t sure if we were stood on the platform for the line 2 service – no signs, no people, nothing! Imagine our relief when the tram eventually arrived… we’d now scooped all the lines available to us although the trams were modern Siemens things which didn’t inspire much interest so we then headed off for our first funicular, the Funicular Montjuić, which climbs the hill towards the castle and Olympic village to the west of the centre.
Predictably, as we alighted at Diagonal the timer for the next funicular tripped over from 2 seconds to ten minutes but the walk from the metro platform to the funicular turned out to be a fair old slog so it was just as well, really. Eventually the vehicle glided into the platform, amusingly bouncing off the sprung buffers as it did so, and we climbed aboard. The platform at the bottom station was reasonably level so getting aboard a stepped funicular car was a slightly disorienting experience! The ride was a lot longer than we’d expected (758m if you really wanted to know… didn’t think so!) and the view from the summit wasn’t as good as expected although a lot of this was due to the hazy weather Barcelona was experiencing.
We’d been planning to look at the cable car which continues up to the castle; I hate cable cars so was very pleased when we discovered it was dismantled for rebuilding. Nothing for it then but to take the other car down – the cardinal rule of funicular scooping is to always do one up for the other back - whilst trying to ignore the extremely annoying brat who insisted on bouncing a football on the floor all the way, and head off for the next funicular-tastic moment of the day and the longest one too; the Tibidabo is 1.1km long and, as an added bonus (as if any were needed) you can get a heritage 4-wheel tram called the Tramvia Blau up to it from the FGC terminus at Av. Tibidabo! The tram is a bit of a con as it’s operated by TMB but you still have to buy a ticket (€3.30 return, ticket on the tram) although you can always do a bus if you don’t want to scoop it in or are a tight bastard.
1,276m of Notch 8!
We’d just missed one tram and there was already a fair-sized queue for the next one so we took up positions and waited… and waited… it soon became apparent that the service wasn’t that frequent but, just as the queue behind us was threatening to spill out onto the road beyond and cause traffic meltdown, one lumbered it’s way down the hill and disgorged it’s considerable cargo onto the pavement. The boarding procedure reminded me of buying tickets at Wakefield beer festival all those years ago – a huge queue moving nowhere and the ticket Berts on a go-slow! Eventually we got aboard and settled for standing alongside the driver on the front platform; after a good five minutes of shambolic ticketing we were away with the power handle hard back against the stop.
I soon realised we weren’t going to exceed the speed limit as we ground up the substantial hill at around 5mph with a frustrated wake of cars behind us. The route was tortuous to say the least and the little tram hauled itself and it’s payload up the snaking track with much grinding of metal and protesting of motors; I was impressed and noticed that the power handle was only once notched back from full power as we approached a traffic light – the rest of the time it was notch 8 all the way!
Upon reaching the summit the funicular was opposite so we trooped across to it (trying to keep ahead of the mass emerging from the tram) and found that the heritage cars were adorned with graffiti – I’d read about this and apparently it’s done by local kids on an “invitational” basis… something a bit at odds with graffiti being done on invitation to me, but there you go. We bagged some decent seats and waited whilst the car filled up around us before it lumbered off up the slope - which seemed a lot longer than the 1.1km it actually was - as we climbed higher and higher up the mountain; when we reached the top the whole of the city was spread out before us and looked a long way down!
The top of the mountain seemed to be clad in a monstrosity calling itself a “funfair” which elevated tat to a new level so, after getting some photos of the city below, we festered for the other car back down again, unfortunately for us they only run every half-hour in winter so the wait was a bit longed than we would have liked! Eventually it arrived (the cars have no numbers so I’m just guessing it was the other one) and we piled aboard and off we trundled downhill whilst I tried not to think what speed the thing might attain before smashing into the bottom station should the cable break…
We disembarked and hurried across to the waiting Tram – I was happy to see it was the other car from the one we’d had up the hill – and after viewing a black cat sat in a beer garden we settled ourselves into the wooden seats for the bone-jarring run back down. The tram wasn’t as full as on the way up so we were quickly underway – a bit too quickly by the looks of things as, when we reached the lower station, the other tram hadn’t yet left! Eventually it lumbered off and we pulled into the platform where I indulged in a quick seminar in front of the tram, causing the trolleypole run-round to be momentarily halted and some normals to be very puzzled indeed… back at the FGC station we noticed the lifts had fleet numbers so scooped number 4 down to the platforms proving for certain that we are very, very sad indeed and must get out more.
Right then, we were back in the centre, and it was time for a drink! After a quick wander around the old town just to see some of it in daylight an executive decision was taken – Vaso de Oro just had to be scooped again! A short metro trip later we were once again struggling through the door into the narrow interior but this time we managed to get a table in the corner; this would enable us to loiter a bit longer and indulge in some tapas! I quickly collared one of the waiters in his captain’s uniform and ordered the beers before scooping some more of the potatoes in olive oil and some additional tuna-type concoction. Two beers and a good feed later we were happy with life in general and I was even happier with the beer as it seemed to have become even better with it’s rich, sweetish maltiness and long bitter finish with dry malt and a complex nut character; this was some find!
We still had a few places we wished to visit so, with regret, we paid up and left our favourite Barcelona bar for the last time and headed back into town to try out a little wine bar (we scoop wine too, in case you were wondering why) we’d seen earlier; Evinia, which was situated adjacent to the metro station at Jaume 1. It turned out to be a touristy place albeit with a half-decent selection of wines; the Onix Priorato was particularly good, as was the Montecillo Rioja Reserva 2001. The tapas were a funny old mixture – some were excellent, such as the sheep’s cheese, and some seemed to be microwaved from a bag such as the patatas bravas! We had a couple of glasses of scoops in here before heading off for our next target which, hopefully, would have a few beers available.
Wandering through the old town to see a bit more of it we were amazed by how many painted “body artistes” there were around – the ones who paint themselves totally silver and then pretend to be a statue or similar – and we both decided there was absolutely no need! Just what brings people to the career decision that they want to paint themselves head to toe in paint and stand still in streets being gawped at by tourists I’ll never know…
We took the metro to Passeig de Gracia and soon located the Cerveceria Catalana which I knew wasn’t a brewpub but it sounded quite beery – enough reason for a visit in my book, anyhow. Unfortunately for us most of the population of Barcelona seemed to have had the same idea as us and the place was totally wedged out with normals. I had a quick look at the beers available and saw nothing particularly interesting (a few Belgian bottles and that was it, unless I didn’t see the best stuff – which is very possible) so we cut our losses and headed off to somewhere that sounded good, albeit in a wine-only kind of way.
The find of the evening.
La Bodegetta turned out to be a little cellar bar which looked a lot quieter from the outside than our last visit so in we plunged. We were met by who I assume was the manager and he quickly ascertained we required a table, but before he could find us one Sue told him we’d be more than happy sat along the bar; he agreed and hurried off to deal with more incoming customers. We hoisted ourselves up onto the barstools and looked around – one wall was full of bottles of wine, the bar had various items of tapas being doled out at a frantic pace, and there were also real Barcelona crisps too! The beer choice was Estrella-Damm on draught and the rarer AK-Damm in bottle but, as we were in wine mode now, I immediately flagged these and we cast our eyes over the open bottles at the end of the bar in hope of finding some scoops in the sphere of vino tinto.
I’ll not bore you any longer with stories of us drinking wine for hours in this excellent cellar bar except to say that the tapas were excellent (including more unidentified but very nice tuna mush and some fishy croquettes) and the prize moment when the most riotous of the riotous barstaff – who were very sociable and seemed to love their job despite it being really hard work – opened a bottle of cava and didn’t hold the cork properly; I felt it pass my head at some huge velocity and it struck the guy behind me square on the chin with a massive “thwack” noise like you’d expect in a cartoon; he was momentarily stunned by the impact but seemed to regard it as a huge joke and, presumably, part of the normal occurrence in La Bodegetta! We loved the place and drank copious amounts of the Ribiera del Duero wine until we felt it was time to make a move back towards the hotel; if we were back in Barcelona at any point then we swore we’d be back!
The walk back was enlivened by us staring at yet more modernista structures and growing even more convinced that Mr. Gaudi and his followers had a wedding-cake or marzipan fetish as that’s what they looked like to us – decorated cakes! We reached the Diagonal and passed the closed brewpub (shut on Sundays) on our way to the last call of the evening; the Bristol Blue, which billed itself as an “English pub” although I’d read some reports which made out it might be worth a look so, with the night still young at only 23:00, we nipped inside for a swift half of something.
All the way from Olomouc.
If I hadn’t read this place was supposed to be “English” in style I’d never have guessed – there were no skinheads reading the Sun and waving union jacks, nor were there any football yobs vomiting in the street outside between drunken brawling with other yobs that happened to support another team. In fact the only vaguely “English” thing I could see was the football on Sky Sports and a few UK brewery adverts hung randomly on the walls. A quick look at the beer situation was enough to amaze me – the draught lager was Litovel which, in it’s better moments in the Czech Republic, is one of my favourite Czech beers! I had a sneaking feeling that I wasn’t going to be dazzled by this example but ordered a pint anyhow and Sue had a CVNE Rioja – which came in a little personal bottle and was a scoop as well!
We sat in a small compartment and looked around the pub. I’d not say that I’d recommend it for any visitor as it’s frankly not worth the walk but if you’re around the brewpub then you could poke your nose in for a swift one; I think there were other beers available too but totally failed to look after seeing the Litovel! The beer was cold, gassy and bland but I could taste hints of that magical Slovenian Goldings flavour which had so bewitched me in Czech a few years ago… although that example was unpasteurised and about ten miles from the brewery! Sue’s wine was very acceptable too so we didn’t totally waste our time by trying the place after all – which was a relief.
Having supped up that was us done for the night and, indeed, done for Barcelona as the following day we were doing a train up to Girona to have a look round there before flying back with Ryanair to Luton (which had cost me £10.50 each, all-in!) so we plodded back to the hotel along the seemingly never-ending Diagonal and cracked open our final two beers we’d bought the previous day. One was Bok-Damm in a can which I’d bought as insurance in case we didn’t see it anywhere (it had been the first beer we’d come across, perversely) and this was the same as we’d had from the tap with a toffee-caramel taste, thin body and dry, syrupy, caramelly finish. The other was Mahou negra, made in Madrid by Carlsberg, which was surprisingly good with a full caramel, toffee and malt taste with some bitterness to round it off; that’s another two in the book!
Monday 20th March 2006.
We were flying home from the Northern Spanish town of Girona as this fitted in with our liking for what are known in the travel trade as “multi-centre trips”; think about it, if you can fly somewhere, have a look around, travel to somewhere else, have a nosey about then fly back from there you’re getting two places for the price of one! We were becoming quite attached to this method of travelling having done a few of these trips the previous year such as our Bratislava / Brno and Nice / Genoa expeditions. All that and Girona sounded a really nice place and, as a clincher, I’d managed to book our flights with Ryanair for £10.51 each – all in! Result.
After checking out of the hotel we had a bit of a march ahead of us to Passeig de Gracia train station where we would catch the hourly train through to Girona. For a brief phase during our scurry along the modernista-infested roads I though we’d miss the train but it was with some relief that I eventually spotted the RENFE signs above the underground station and we eventually arrived with a good ten minutes to spare. After buying our tickets from a very sociable clerk in the travel centre (only €5.45 each although the faster trains cost a bit more) we suddenly remembered that we had no food on us and we could murder a fresh orange juice… thankfully, there was a shop on the platform where we obtained some fresh juice and butties for the journey so our lack of planning wasn’t a disaster after all as, after all the drinking the previous day, we needed a bit of rehydrating!
The train journey was uneventful and just over an hour later we were in Girona – and it was warm, a lot warmer than Barcelona had been! We’d been deliberating whether to leave our luggage but the heat confirmed it and we paid a very reasonable 3 or 4 euros for a locker. After checking out the bus gen for the airport for later on (the bus station is right behind the train station) we took a quick look at a kettle plinthed outside the station before wandering into the town where, on crossing the river, we saw more fish than I’ve ever seen in one place sunbathing in the shallow waters… dunno what type they were, but they were beige and there were loads of ‘em!
After a visit to the tourist office to acquire a map we spent the next couple of hours exploring the castle walls (very difficult to walk around!) and the alleyways of the old town which were like something from a time long gone; all cobbled streets and steep hills lined with old stone facades. Eventually it was time to get some food before we returned home so we tried out a little café called El Café (!) at Ciutadans 1 just off the riverfront and, for a second, I thought I’d walked into a specialist beer bar – Dolle stout, Schumacher alt and various other top beer bottles were arranged above the bar but, on closer inspection, I saw they were all empty… D’oh! Moritz was available in bottles but we just wanted coffee and food by this time and very good and cheap they were too.
The shop over the road resembled one of those old emporiums which sell everything – wine, groceries, tins of food, and just about everything else. In the window were bottles of lizard and rat wine – small examples of the aforementioned species immersed in some sort of beige alcohol! Amongst the beers I saw Chimays and even one from Nachod in the Czech Republic! A very strange place, but we got the feeling it was just like that and hadn’t been contrived for tourists. As a final authentic touch the cash register was one of those really old manual ones with a big handle which produced a very reassuring “ker-ching!” sound, just as you’d imagine old cash registers would.
We stopped off in a small tapas bar – although they were called Pintxos in the Basque way – and enjoyed some lovely little treats such as a stuffed crab-claw and anchovies before we had to finally call it a day and head off to the bus station. We’d decided to take the bus before the one we needed just in case there was any sort of shambles involved but the coach departed only five minutes late and arrived at the little airport ten minutes behind schedule where we found loads of normals loitering around waiting for the flights to appear on the screens. We were lucky as we got in the queue for the Luton flight early but if we’d done the 20:00 bus like we had originally planned we might have been joining a queue stretching back out of the door!
Boarding was relatively painless, as was the flight (and another plane scoop from Ryanair!) and we were back in Luton fifteen minutes early! When we’d passed security I rang the car parking place and, when we finally left the airport after walking down the customary miles of passages with the walls hanging off, the transit minibus was waiting for us – just us! Now that’s what I call service…
Barcelona isn’t the best place to choose for an epic scooping trip but if you’ve done most of the “must do’s” then it’s a fairly interesting excursion and a fascinating city too – especially if you like public transport as much as we do! With a couple of brewpubs and semi-interesting beers from the big boys available you won’t go thirsty unless you insist beer must be cask-conditioned to be drunk, in which case you definitely will! There is also a local tradition of cider (sidra) and also a fair few Cava bars where the local sparkling wine is sold for a pittance; the Rough guide lists many of these and, as we didn’t have time to visit any of them, I’ll refrain from comment apart from to say the Cava I sampled in Evinia was a lot better than most of the cheap champagne I’ve tasted in my time.
Most low-cost airlines will get you to Barcelona these days even if they bend the rules of geography slightly in their destinations. easyJet fly from the three London airports (Stansted, Gatwick and Luton) in addition to Liverpool, Bristol and Newcastle. Air Berlin fly from Stansted, Thomsonfly go from Coventry and Jet2 from Leeds/Bradford whilst Globespan fly from Glasgow and Edinburgh. Add to this Ryanair who fly not to Barcelona but to Girona (45m northeast and a tourist destination in it’s own right) from London Luton and Stansted in addition to Blackpool, Bournemouth, Liverpool, Glasgow and East Midlands. Ryanair also fly to Reus (50m southwest of Barcelona) from Luton, Stansted, Liverpool and Glasgow. Most of these airlines offer a comprehensive service which means you don’t even have to look at the flag carriers – unless you want to scream “Hoooow much?!?!?” after getting a ludicrous quote just for a laugh.
I wouldn’t even consider any other way of getting to Barcelona; it’s the wrong side of Spain for ferries and it’s a long way to drive! One option would be to fly to Madrid then overnight it on the train into town or even fly to southern France and train it in from there – the run through the Pyrenees and along the coast is very impressive indeed. You could, as a last resort, coach it with Eurolines (part of National Express) although 27 hours on a bus (for £60 single) isn’t my idea of a good start to an exploration of a city – give me Luton airport any day, and that’s really saying something…
Barcelona is an easy city to navigate – yes, it’s big and sprawling, but basically the old town is small enough to walk across in 15 minutes and the rest of the suburbs, such as Eixample, are laid out in a grid pattern which makes navigating easy (if you’ve not had too many beers first – we got severely confused once!). Public transport is provided by TMB who operate the metro (underground), trams and various other modes of transport throughout the city. We bought a 3-day pass for €13.20 (there are also 2, 4 and 5 day passes available) which was valid from the airport, on all the metros and the FGC trains, all trams (except the Tramvia Blau which costs extra – pay on the tram) and funiculars; all in all excellent value considering the airport transfer was included; buy these tickets from the information desk in airport arrivals or wherever you see the TMB logo.
Be aware that the trains from the airport are a shambles until 04/12/06 owing to the lines being gibbered about with so you can either take a train and change for another at Prat de Llobregat or you can use the special TMB bus which leaves from behind the airport’s rail station – you can see it through the glass wall. No tickets sold on board, but the 3-day passes are valid as are train tickets apparently. The bus goes to Sants rail station which is a central enough location to start your stay and takes around 25 minutes. See the ever useful to and from the airport website for more details and TMB’s website which is pretty damn good and has a full list of tickets available as well as a very useful maps section where you can plan moves beforehand, although maps are free from ticket offices if you ask.
Barcelona beer Gen.
There are countless bars in the city but you'll be lucky to find any beer apart from Estrella or San Miguel on sale except in our very few top recommendations, so develop a taste for tapas and Rioja and get stuck in there - it's a great city. Pushed for a favourite, I'd have to go with El Vaso de Oro for it's excellent and very suppable homebrew (allegedly!) and general all-round excellence. As for Girona, it’s a very scenic place although it doesn't have a brewery or beer culture as far as I could see apart from some bars selling Moritz.
There is one definite (Cervesera Artesana) and one "almost certain" brewpub (Vaso de Oro) in Barcelona, which seems to have a more developed beer culture than most of the rest of Spain. Add to this a local regional (Moritz) and the huge Damm and San Miguel factories then you have a fair few to go at, with both the big boys making a few token vaguely interesting beers in addition to their industrial slops.
Llupols i Llevats is a small micro in Barcelona whose beers can be found in the places listed here - wish we'd known before we went though! They make some interesting-sounding beers (including a Bambergesque smoked lager) under the amusing "brand" name of Glops!
Damm is almost omnipresent in Barcelona; I doubt there are many bars that don't serve it in one form or another. The usual beer, Estrella, is a standard grassy boring yellow fluid, but they also make Voll-Damm (7.2%) and Damm-Bok (5.4%) which are both worth a try - Voll is a full-bodied yet bland pale beer whilst the Bok is dark brown and caramelly with a bit of interest about it. They also make a beer allegedly to the Rheinheitsgebot called AK Damm (4.8%) which we saw on sale at La Bodegueta but flagged it as we were wine scooping by that point!
San Miguel, owned by Carlsberg with all the implications on taste that has, make a range of crappy pils-type fluids but do produce a beer made, allegedly, to the Rheinheitsgebot and called (appropriately) 1516 (4.2%) - this was available in the cafe Zurich on Plaça de Catalunya although I turned it down on the grounds it'd probably still be rubbish!
Moritz were a fairly major brewer based in the city until they stopped production in 1978 when "bad financial dealings brought about their downfall". The "brand" (you can see where this is going, can't you?) was re-launched in 2004 by descendents of the original owner, although the beer now comes from Zaragozana brewery. Apparently there are plans for a micro-brewery in the old buildings which are now called "Fábrica Moritz" (Ronda de Sant Antoni 39, 5 mins S of metro Universitat) although I have no gen on this as yet... Read this for a business-oriented look at the beer or here for a much better local take on the company.
You'll struggle to find Moritz on draught, bottled seems to be the way forwards for them. It's available in supermarkets (one on Carrer d'Aribau north of Diagonal for example) for around 60cents a bottle and, to be honest, it wasn't too bad with a fairly full bitterish, grassy finish. If you're in Girona, "El Cafe" at Ciutadans 1 (close to the Tourist office) has it in bottles and almost convinced me I'd walked into a specialist beer café with the Schumacher Alt and Dolle Brouwers Export Stout bottles above the bar until I realised these were empty and not on the menu - D'oh!
One alleged brewpub was Vascelum on the square outside the huge gothic church of Santa Maria del Mar to the east of the old town. When we entered it was obvious that it wasn't brewing and a quick check with the nearest waiter confirmed that only Damm and Moritz beers were available including the repulsive-sounding "Lemon-Damm" on draught; no need.
El Vaso de Oro, Carrer de Balboa in Barcelonetta. Open 09:00 - 00:00 daily. ()
From the outside it doesn't look much, but inside it's amazing - there is barely enough space to stand in front of the bar (except at the ends where the bar finishes) and it's full of character - and characters, including the riotous barmen in their vaguely amusing captains’ shirts. The beer is dispensed from a huge steel dispenser with no labels on it into tall flutes and is decent, with a rich malty aroma and flavour then a nutty, malty and reasonably bitter finish. It slips down very easily so beware; best invest in some of the excellent tapas available at the bar - if you can manage to squeeze along to see them! I think it opens from 09:00 until 00:00; very sociable, and although we saw not a sniff of a brewery this means nothing and the beer was excellent. I hear reports that say the beer is brewed nearby, not in the pub, making it not a brewpub but a brewery tap – with top beer, our favourite in Barcelona. NOTE - this is definitely nowhere near the best beer in town these days, and I hear it's brewed by Damm anyhow...
This cracking little bar (the name means "the glass of Gold") is close to Barcelonetta metro station and vaguely close to França RENFE station; from the metro cross the busy dual carriageway (Ronda del Litoral) heading away from the centre along Plaça del Pau Vila and Carrer de Balboa is the first left with the bar being 10 metres on the right.
La Cervesera Artesana, Calle Sant Agustí 14. Mon-Thur 18:00 to 02:00, Fri & Sat 18:00-03:00, closed Sundays. ()
I had high hopes for this place with the beers being made with decent ingredients but it was a bit of a let-down; fairly expensive beer (EUR 2.20 for a very badly-filled half pint) and the brews themselves were disappointingly mediocre, even the Iberian Stout. They do four beers at a time - Iberian Pale Ale, Iberian Stout, Rubia (golden) ale and a special (Honey on our visit, the best of the four) and the small brewing kit is on show in a room at the back. It opens from 18:00 until the early hours but is closed Sunday.
Off Calle Corsega, just north of Diagonal.
Other bars in Barcelona.
We found some great little bars, mostly selling Estrella Damm and lots of wine and tapas, so here is a list of my recommendations. See also Ron Pattinson's page for some more suggestions.
/ La Cerveteca, Gignàs 25. Open Mon-Tue 16:00-22:00, Wed-Sun 12:00-22:00.
This relatively new (it's opened since we visited!) bar-cum-tasting room has a good range of world beers in stock including some rare Spanish micro-brewed beers from the likes of Agullons. Beers can, apparently, be drunk on-site although I've not been so can't confirm.
Opposite the huge post office building and not far from Barcelonetta and El Vaso de Oro with the closest metro probably being Jaume I although this is still a fair trek south along Laietana away.
Bar Boqueria, Sant Josep market. Open market hours - approx 08:00-16:00. ()
This cracking eatery is situated deep inside the market and dishes up tapas to a steady stream of customers as well as the rare-ish Damm Bock on draught! The market is a right beast and highly recommended for a wander around - just watch your bags!
In the Sant Josep market just off the Ramblas near to Liceau metro station.
Glaciar Bar, Plaça Reial. ()
Tucked away in the Northwest corner of this palm tree-infested square, Glaciar sells Voll-Damm, Damm Bock and a range of Belgian beers and others which is good for Barcelona as well as great espresso.
Just off Las Ramblas towards the southern end just past the market.
Evinia, Via Laietana 23. Should be usual tourist hours - all day. ()
Some decent wines to scoop here but nothing in the way of beer as far as I could see. Some tapas are good (cheeses) whilst some seem to be microwaved!
Next to the Jaume 1 metro station.
Cerveceria Catalana, Calle Mallorca 236, 07:30 to 01:00 every day. ()
Despite it's name, not a brewery but a tapas bar serving some Belgian beers to a flood of tourists - we couldn't get a seat so gave up, but at quiet times it looks as if it would be worth a drink.
Only a few hundred metres west from Passeig de Gracia station.
La Bodegueta, Rambla Catalunya 98. 07:00 - 02:00 daily. ()
This cellar bar has good tapas, riotous staff and a selection of very well priced wines by the bottle or (if you ask nicely) glass; highly recommended.
One block southwest of Diagonal metro station.
Bristol Blue, Torrent de l'Olla 39-41. ()
An "English" bar - which basically means sport on the TV and it's compulsory to act like a drunken twat. Actually, it wasn't that bad and as a bonus they have Litovel lager on draught from near Olomouc in the Czech Republic, a very rare find indeed, but that's all it's really got going for it!
The next road east from Calle Sant Agustí and the Cervesera Artesana, north of Diagonal.
Best beers of the week.
Not as difficult as it has been in the past, I must admit!
1) Vasa de Oro homebrew, Vasa de Oro bar, Barcelonetta.
2) La Cervecera Honey beer at La Cervesera Artesana.
3) La Cervecera Iberian Stout at La Cervesera Artesana.
V1.2 © Gazza 06/01/09.
|Sant Josep market winners !||If that's not a bellow I don't know what is...||Catalan Gothic - Santa Maria del Mar in the old town||Vaso de Oro homebrewed beer and tapas - you can't go wrong!||Vaso de Oro inside|
|Barcelona 18/03/06||Barcelona 18/03/06||Barcelona 18/03/06||Barcelona 18/03/06||Barcelona 18/03/06|
|Cervesera Artesanal's brewing kit||The outside of Cervesera Artesanal||A seminar of Tramvia blau No.10 at the bottom with withered normals!||Vaso de Oro outside||Scooping in multiple in Vaso de Oro...|
|Barcelona 18/03/06||Barcelona 18/03/06||Barcelona 19/03/06||Barcelona 19/03/06||Barcelona 19/03/06|